My phone rang last Saturday, November 3rd morning at 5:45 am. The long awaited day of our 9th annual NJ Fly Fisherman of the Year Contest and Banquet to benefit the New Jersey State Council of Trout Unlimited had arrived. Torrential rains had moved through our area overnight. Shannon's Store Manager, Don Tretsky wished me a quick "good morning" and then asked "Have you checked the stream gauge?" "Donnie, it is 5:45 am and pitch black, I haven't checked anything." "Well it is 1410 cfs (cubic feet per second flow) and still going straight up. What's the plan?" "Well" I said, "let me get on the phone." I called Raritan Inn owner and NJFFOY co-conspirator and sponsor Bill Asdal. There was never any question of whether we could cancel the event. The banquet was set and folks would soon be arriving from across the state. I busied myself conferring and confirming with our judges that indeed the event was going forward but logistics needed to be addressed. Where would we fish? Where would we park? The river was still rising and daylight was bringing us more difficult news: The river was going over 2000 cfs!
Bill conferred with Shannon's Guide, Gerry Dumont and Shannon's Private Waters (SPW) member and contest judge, Kevin Lovely. Together they hatched the plan to move the fishing contest. We couldn't fish our beautiful waters for trout today. It was impossible but SPW also has access to the ponds at Black Oak Golf Course in Long Valley. A quick call to confirm permission and the move was made and the day was saved, simply brilliant. Contestants from the ten Trout Unlimited Chapters from across New Jersey as well as representatives from Raritan Headwaters and Casting For Recovery quickly deployed around the several ponds made available to us by Black Oak. Rules were modified to reflect the new objects of the angler's quest: Largemouth Bass and Sunfish. Large and small flies were deployed but it quickly became evident that small flies fished under a float were the key to success. Jim Kinney of Ridge and Valley TU was simply massacring sunfish and small bass. The trout contest had turned into a Bluegill Beat Down but spirits were high. I simply can't say enough about the positive attitude of the contestants, judges and spectators.
At the end of the preliminary rounds the final three contestants were Jim Kinney, Christine Mueller representing Casting For Recovery and Fred Moduro of the East Jersey Chapter of TU. Back at the Inn for a welcome hot lunch it was decided to return to the ponds for the finals. The sunnies were a little less willing to bite in the afternoon. The reason may have been that larger bass were on the prowl. This theory was confirmed when Fred landed a 20" and then a 16" Largemouth Bass on a #16 Red Copper John fished under a float. His fellow East Jersey TU member Chris had suggested fishing the outflow of a small culvert. Central Jersey Chapter President Bart Lombardo netted the bass for Fred and helped him gain the title of NJ Fly Fisherman of the Year for 2018.
Back once again at the Inn, attendees prepared for the banquet by engaging in a casting contest supervised by Bart. James Jindal of R.L. Winston Rod Company provided the rods for the event. Rahway River Chapter's Chris Martino won the contest. After a delicious dinner courtesy of Redwoods of Chester, TU staffer Cole Baldino gave a brief keynote detailing projects in our region including pending projects on the Upper Delaware and Lopatcong Creek. Awards were given out and Fred Moduro was presented with his trophy and a Ross reel. My thanks to everyone who helped make this day a success. To our staff of judges John Collins, Dave McKenna of Douglas Outdoors, Brian Cowden of Troutscapes, Sheldon Kay, Gerry Dumont, Dr. Rich Fernandez and Kevin Lovely, organizers Glenn Tippey State Council Chair, Kelly Buchta of State Council, Joan Flagler who organized our press releases and finally to Bill and Marcia Asdal of the Raritan Inn you have my thanks and congratulations for a job well done. Thanks also to Matt Grobert and to George and Lenny for holding down the fort and making sure all who wanted either participate or watch found our new location. Nick Romanenko thank you for your photos and good humor. This is one we will remember for a long time. We are already planning for next year- the tenth anniversary of the NJ FFOY!